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p a r t t h r e e between anatomy and natural history Malpighi and the Royal Society Part III focuses on the last third of the seventeenth century, encompassing three areas at the intersection between anatomy and natural history: the study of insects, generation , and plants. At first this may seem a rather heterogeneous set, but a closer scrutiny reveals profound links and a shared intellectual project among them: although the study of insects and plants involves a descriptive, natural historical component, it also requires tools such as the syringe and the microscope, conceptualizations, and skills associated with anatomy. Although generation seems closer to anatomy, the patient and careful observation and recording of the developing chick recalls methods from natural history. In 1668 Malpighi received the first letter from the secretary of the Royal Society Henry Oldenburg and broke off his correspondence with Borelli; all his subsequent publications appeared with the imprimatur of the Royal Society of London. Prompted by Oldenburg, Malpighi embarked on the study of the silkworm and other insects, leading to De bombyce and his election to the Royal Society in 1669. Subsequently he moved to the formation of the chick in the egg and to the anatomy of plants. I am going to take the lead from his research to explore contemporary investigations of these three fields by a range of scholars. There was something deeper to Malpighi’s projects besides their association with the Royal Society, as the frequent cross-references suggest. The study of generation, for example, involved not only the investigation of the chick in the egg but also the challenge to spontaneous generation, the study of the metamorphosis of insects, and the process of germination. Mechanistic anatomy brings to mind the mechanical explanation of various organs, such as the viscera or the brain. But this is a rather limited version of mechanism, one leaving out fundamental processes such as generation and growth, which, together Figure PIII. Swammerdam, Historia insectorum: the growth of a frog and carnation Between Anatomy and Natural History 173 with nutrition, had been considered since antiquity among the main faculties of the vegetative soul or of nature, distinguishing living organisms from inert matter. In On the Natural Faculties, Galen had discussed at length their role, arguing that they could not be explained in mechanical terms. Of the three, nutrition seemed the least problematic from a mechanistic standpoint and was accounted for in corpuscular terms, while generation appeared as the most intractable; this is the reason why there was an attempt on the part of anatomists such as Swammerdam and Malpighi to account for generation in terms of growth and growth in terms of nutrition. The following chapters present some of the most challenging mechanistic investigations and reflections on these issues of their time. The beautiful engraving from Jan Swammerdam’s 1669 Historia insectorum generalis shows on the same plate the growth from egg and seed of a frog and carnation to maturity, or to the point when they can reproduce. Thus, this plate ties together anatomy and natural history through the study of lower animals, generation, and plants. Malpighi saw this plate soon after its publication, while he was engaged in the study of insects and was about to embark on the study of plants, thus underscoring that several scholars were seeing connections among these fields. In the following three chapters visual representation takes on an especially prominent role and is discussed relying on a comparative approach. This page intentionally left blank ...


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